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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, there may be confusion—although I suspect that there is not really—between the responsibilities under the Bill as regards employment—I confirm that the Armed Services are excluded from the disability discrimination responsibilities and duties regarding employment—as opposed to services where we do not think it is necessarily reasonable to exclude the Armed Forces simply because they are armed forces. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will be aware, the Armed Forces are already exempt, as I say, from Part 2 of the Act and we have no plans to remove that exemption, so I can give the noble Lord the assurances that he sought.

However, no such exemption exists in relation to Sections 19 to 21 in Part 3 of the Act, which deal with access to goods and services. Here we are not talking about Armed Forces training, fighting, in deployment or following their duties. For example, if an Army base were to open up its rifle range and invite members of the public to try their hand at target practice—that may seem a silly example but I am trying to make a distinction between employment and services here—or if it provided hospitals that civilians may use—that is relevant given our previous discussion—it would be offering a service. As such, it would be covered by the duties of reasonable adjustment in Section 21.

We intend to adopt a very similar approach for Armed Forces functions covered by Clause 2. If the Armed Forces were to engage in a public consultation exercise, they would need to ensure that disabled people were able to take part. Such consultations might be on whether to extend a firing range or allowing access to open spaces for the first time. Of course, in such circumstances, the features of Clause 2 that permit an authority to justify a failure to make an
 
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adjustment or less favourable treatment, or to argue that a particular adjustment is unreasonable, will also apply.

But we believe that it is appropriate for national security reasons to grant a limited exemption in respect of any functions that are carried out to assist GCHQ. This will ensure that sensitive information is not disclosed in court proceedings under the DDA.

With those assurances and an explanation of the limited exemption—we have no intention of changing the way the existing parts of the Act apply to the Armed Forces; the exemption simply replicates the equivalent provisions of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000—I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I understand the argument put forward to explain why the employment elements of the newly amended Act are excluded. I also take the point that the provision of goods and services needs to be excluded. As a child, I made a monthly visit to a military hospital for blood tests. It was the most convenient place that was equipped with rapid analytical services. So I am conscious of the example given by the noble Baroness. The other one I found, as I believe she did, a little strange. None the less, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Skelmersdale moved Amendment No. 6:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I apologise for having had to table this amendment. I have done so because in Grand Committee I was not quick enough to push the Minister to answer the question I had posed. At the time we were discussing whether the definition of "public" authority in Clause 2 should include Members of Parliament. I was concerned that no publicly elected authority should be excluded from the workings of the Act. I accepted that MPs, noble Lords, and Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly should be excluded, as recommended in the report of the Disability Task Force, From Exclusion to Inclusion. That was on the basis that internal proceedings, Standing Orders and the like, should be used to secure reasonable adjustments for their Members. Furthermore, and perhaps more seriously, I accepted the Minister's comment that the imposition of non-discrimination issues in relation to Members of these directly elected bodies would put their activities in the realm of tribunals and, ultimately, the courts, so undermining the constitutional principle of "exclusive cognisance".

That is fine as far as it goes, and like the Minister I hope that these bodies will act as though they are covered by the Act. Certainly, as regards your Lordships' House, adaptations have been made that have made access for disabled people considerably better since I first arrived here. We have, to name but a few, lower pavements, ramps, drinking fountains and the provision of wheelchairs available to any who need them. All that is good.
 
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On that basis, after taking evidence from the House authorities, the Joint Committee agreed with the task force. None the less, the Government's watchdog in this area, the Disability Rights Commission, believes that this subject needs further consideration. I am sure that it will give it that consideration in due course and decide whether to make representations to the Government.

Grouped with this in Grand Committee was an amendment to which I believe the Minister did not respond properly. In my original perusal of the Bill I was struck by subsection (5) of new Section 21B, which is the subject of this amendment. Not content with exempting nationally elected bodies and the other groups listed in subsection (3) from the workings of the Act, the Government are taking a power to exclude other persons of a prescribed description. This is potentially a very wide power indeed. We are entitled to investigate exactly why the Government feel it necessary to take it, and what sort of other persons might be covered by it. I beg to move.

12.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, although we discussed this amendment in Grand Committee, obviously I did not respond in a way that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, thought satisfactory. The amendment would remove the regulation-making power in Section 21B(5) which is necessary in order to allow for some degree of flexibility in stipulating the bodies to be subject to the new provisions.

In our previous discussions I stressed that the Government's general principle is that bodies should not be excluded from these important new provisions unless there are very strong arguments that exclusion is necessary for such reasons as national security, the maintenance of judicial independence or the sovereignty of Parliament. But it is only prudent to allow for circumstances when it might be necessary to specify whether it is appropriate for a particular activity of a public authority to be covered by these provisions.

It is true that we could seek to amend the relevant new sections through primary legislation every time it was necessary to do so. However, that takes time and the Government do not think it an appropriate use of this House's time when the kind of exemptions we might need to make are most probably minor and technical in nature. An exemption might be needed for something as simple as a change in the name of a body. I noted also in Grand Committee that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform is content with this approach.

Once again, there is no hidden agenda or anything suspicious here. All the bodies the Government intend to exempt from the duties are set out in Clause 2. We do not intend to use this power at present, but the flexibility it gives is comparable to other regulation-making powers that are already included in the Act passed by the previous administration. For example, Section 19(5) would allow the Government to disapply the duties imposed by Sections 19 to 21 to the provision of prescribed circumstances, while Section 28A(2) allows
 
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the Government to apply or disapply the duties imposed by Section 28A to prescribed circumstances. Section 35 would allow the Government to disapply Section 34 from prescribed taxi licensing authorities. I suspect that the noble Lord will again accuse me of speaking in Sanskrit, but I am trying to demonstrate that this is a conventional power taken over to some degree from the existing DDA.

With that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, sometimes the noble Baroness speaks so fast that it is difficult to follow her. However, in her original example she mentioned Clause 19(5), which is set out in heavy type in the Keeling version she so helpfully provided earlier. It is therefore included in the Bill.

Having said that, I was not fast enough to pick up the other sections of the Act to which the noble Baroness referred. I understand that flexibility might be needed, but it is still a very vague form of flexibility. For example, the change of name of an organisation is often enshrined in legislation. We have considered numerous health Bills over the years in which bodies were either created or changed their name. Such changes are usually in the Act of Parliament, so I do not see why it should not be possible, in the Act of Parliament which changes their name, to amend this Act if that is appropriate.

I shall not pursue the argument today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]


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